As the mysterious “they” have said, all good things must come to an end. And that’s true of this series. I’ve been more than thrilled with the posts, and I hope you’ve enjoyed them as well. (The first post in the series can be found here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, and the sixth here.)
Last but not least is this post by another friend from VCFA, the wise and wonderful Laurie Morrison. If you know Laurie, you know her awesome blog. I’ve been thrilled by her visits to this blog as well. You can find them here and here. Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe and is working on a humorous contemporary young adult epistolary novel the working title of which is Dear Baby. Doesn’t that sound great?! Until that book debuts, you can enjoy this post from Laurie!
I have a sign on my classroom door that is decorated with a rainbow and says Safe Space. The sign means that I want my classroom to be a comfortable, welcoming place for all students.
When I began to reflect on the idea of space for this guest post, I thought of that sign. Then I started to think about the spaces that felt safe and not-so-safe to me when I was my students’ age—in middle school—and then when I was a freshman in high school.
When I was in middle school, almost every place felt safe. I went to the same small, cozy school from kindergarten to eighth grade. My mom was a teacher there, my younger brothers went there, and I’d known most of my classmates for as long as I could remember. But when I started high school, I struggled to find spaces where I felt at home.
Nothing particularly traumatic happened to me. My freshman year would have made for very dull fiction. Nobody was overtly mean to me, and I later found out that one of the girls on my bus, who eventually became one of my best friends, was bending over backwards to try to befriend me, but I was so overwhelmed and out of sorts that I just didn’t notice. After feeling so at home in middle school, though, I didn’t feel comfortable or welcome at my bigger, louder, more competitive high school. Especially during some of my lunch periods, when I didn’t have anyone to eat with, and during a free block at the end of the day, when I didn’t know where to go.
Looking back, I realize that even though I felt out of place and disconnected, I found a couple of safe spaces during my freshman fall. One of those safe spaces was French class. A couple of my middle school classmates were in my French class, so I always had someone to sit with. Plus, the whole class routine was so much like it had been in middle school. We’d start each class by going over the workbook pages we’d done for homework; we’d listen to recordings and copy down what we heard; and we’d learn the vocabulary for an activity, like ordering food at a restaurant, and then have practice conversations together. My new teacher’s handwriting even looked the same as my middle school teacher’s handwriting, and she was always complimenting my accent or my memory. I loved going to French class.
In the book I’m working on now, the main character, Whitney, has just switched schools because her parents can no longer afford her private school tuition now that her brother has started college at Princeton and her mom is pregnant with a miracle baby. As I’m writing Whitney’s story, I’m drawing upon my own feelings of discomfort and alienation from freshman year in high school and magnifying them, because I’ve given Whitney a lot of obstacles to work against.
But in the past few days, as I’ve thought about the safe spaces that I found at the beginning of my freshman year, I’ve decided that Whitney should probably find her own safe spaces, too. I had already given her a couple without realizing it, actually, but until now I hadn’t stopped to think much about what her safe spaces look and feel like, and how she changes when she enters them. By thinking about the places where Whitney feels comfortable, I think I can enrich the setting of the book and make her a more endearing character.
I read A.S. King’s new book Reality Boy last week and I noticed that her main character, Gerald, has safe spaces, too, even though he’s dealing with some pretty rough circumstances. He feels comfortable and welcome in his Special Ed classroom, and he creates his own imagined safe space—a place he calls “Gersday”—where he can go when he needs to escape. These safe spaces don’t detract from the story’s tension, but they help to develop Gerald’s character, and they give the reader some relief; I actually felt myself exhale when Gerald first walked into the “SPED” room, where people appreciate him.
I think safe spaces are important for everybody, real or fictional. So I invite you to consider: what safe spaces do you have now, and what safe spaces did you have when you were younger? What are the safe spaces for the characters you write or read about? What do those safe spaces reveal to you?
Space sign from GLSEN.org. Book cover from Goodreads. French class sign from ilovegenerator.com. Princeton flag from sportsflagsandpennants.com.